“There was a media benefit to McCarthy existing,” New Yorker writer and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor Jelani Cobb says in the film. “Editors knew that if you put a quote from Joe McCarthy on a headline above the fold on the front page of a newspaper, people were going to pick that newspaper up, that McCarthy was good copy. There was a kind of hyperbolic, sensational quality to McCarthy’s rhetoric that was very marketable. It sold papers.”

New York University history professor Timothy Naftali notes that McCarthy exploited the fact that “the American media wants to be objective. That meant that if you were an elected official, you’d get press regardless of what you said. McCarthy understood this. McCarthy was willing to assert things that he knew weren’t true, and he did it with aplomb.”

Whitaker Chambers and William F. Buckley Jr. biographer Sam Tanenhaus recounts that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aghast at McCarthy’s rise. The hero-general of World War II, who shared McCarthy’s Republican Party affiliation but little else, “blamed the press for much of McCarthy’s popularity,” Tanenhaus says. “He didn’t understand why newspapers and magazines kept reporting all of McCarthy’s allegations.”